Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Little Phoney

It’s approaching time for a new mobile phone handset. I really like the Nokia 3100. It’s dead simple to use and has an inordinately long battery life. There isn’t a camera, FM radio or MP3 player, it doesn’t make tea, tell jokes or do the ironing, but in the words of a parody advert that I now can’t find, “Get a life. It's only a f****** phone.” Unfortunately, it now seems impossible to buy “only a f****** phone”, and the 3100 is as obsolete as flared trousers, kipper ties and vinyl records.

What I really wanted was a new handset that accepted the same computer cable and charger as the 3100. I have no desire to throw away a load of house and car chargers and the hands-free kit. The Nokia 6020 appeared to fit the bill. It does have a crappy camera, but this now seems unavoidable. Cheaper phones aren’t tri-band; a ‘must have’ when travelling to the States.

Unsurprisingly, mobile phone handsets on sale in the UAE come configured to support Arabic text. It’s not only on the keypad. Having bought the new handset I got it home and switched it on, only to be confronted with Right to Left text. Whilst I can read Arabic, albeit extremely slowly, I had to rummage through both English and Arabic manuals for some time before I could find the language settings buried deep within the menu tree.

Ah, success! English.

Except that any form of text input always defaulted to Arabic. Sure, hitting the ‘#’ key twice to get Latin characters was easy enough, but remembering to do this each and every time I wanted to search for a contact name or write a text message started to be a right royal pain en al shams la laisa*.

Back to the shop. “Oh, no problem Mr Goat. It’ll take us half an hour because we have to reprogram the handset to disable Arabic text support.”

The duly-appointed half an hour later, this had turned into: “All electronic devices sold in this country support Arabic text, and in the case of your phone it’s impossible to switch it off.”

All electronic devices? Half the laptops in your shop don’t even have Arabic keyboards, and neither do my old phone handset or my own laptop purchased from this very emporium. With all due respect [i.e., no respect at all; the amount you actually deserve], what you have just told me is complete bollocks. Anyway,” I enquired, “Why do your staff say that it’s no problem when you, and presumably they, know that the task is impossible?”

“It’s company policy,” the manager replied. “We always tell the customer that we can do it.”

Well, this sums up Dubai customer service, doesn’t it? Company policy deliberately to lie to the customers.

“We’ll give you a refund, but you’ll obviously have to go home, pick up all the paperwork and packaging and come back here again. We’re open until midnight.”

Having obtained my refund, an almost unprecedented occurrence, I tried several other shops in the mall, but to no avail. Eventually, I discovered that the i2 booth, located about as far as it’s caprinally possible to get from the ski slope without going outside, had a pile of Nokia 6020 handsets. The salesman and I booted one of them up and were confronted with Arabic text. His Arabic was worse than mine (is this actually possible?) but I found the language menu and changed it to English. Miracle of miracles, all references to Arabic text disappeared from the display. Sold.

So “’s impossible to switch [the Arabic] off” has now proved to be “complete bollocks.”

I returned to the first shop. Having defaced the English manual with handwritten PINs and PUKs, it was only fair to give the shop the clean one out of the new phone’s box. How interesting to learn from a further staff member that the technician who couldn’t disable the Arabic was “an idiot.”

Now all that remains to be done is to ensure that the phone doesn’t have an annoying ringtone, but is still obtrusive enough that I can hear it.

* Where the sun shineth not

Thursday, November 22, 2007


It's that time of year.

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all my readers, and especially to my new family.

Alas, no turkey for me. Guess that'll have to wait until Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dibble whammy

A fictionalised proposed screenplay, loosely based on actual events as reported in the Gulf News. Maybe I could write for Hollywood.

A passer-by notices a young woman apparently being forced into a car. It’s impossible to identify the occupant or occupants of the vehicle because of the darkly-tinted windows. The witness, being concerned for the young woman’s welfare, alerts Plod with a description of the vehicle and its registration number.

CID picks up on this call, and upon spotting the car, pulls up in front of it. The suspect driver attempts to escape, initially by reversing away. An exciting car chase ensues.

Eventually, Uncle William traps the suspect vehicle in a cul-de-sac. He uses his police car to block the suspect’s escape. The suspect rams the police car. Old Bill, who has been issued with a sidearm and is trained in its use, fires at the suspect vehicle, hitting the bodywork and rear tyres. Arrests ensue.
So what happens then? An attempted kidnap is thwarted and a dangerous villain convicted and sentenced to a lengthy stay in Al Slammah?

Good heavens, no! The Yemeni policeman gets a three-month suspended sentence for endangering the lives of a young Emirati couple by shooting at their vehicle. His Somali colleague gets three months, suspended, for endangering the couple by chasing and blocking their vehicle. One month, suspended, for the unmarried couple owing to their illicit affair. Nothing for failing to stop, Zero for resisting arrest. Nada for deliberately damaging a police car and zilch for (presumably) driving like a hooligan.

The court, being astute, spotted that the marriage certificate was dated after the date of the incident and upheld the ‘illicit relationship’ charge. “Their legal advisor Abdul Hamid Al Kumity asked the court to dismiss the charge of ‘having an illicit relationship’ because they are married.” No chance.

The claim that the suspect reversed away and then stopped immediately is not borne out by the bullet holes in the rear of his vehicle. Neither is Dubai Police’s initial denial of the shooting incident.

If you were the police officer in this case, what would you have done?

I would suggest that you would first walk slowly towards the suspect. He may be a kidnapper, and could conceivably be armed. You remove a notebook from your shirt pocket and lick your pencil, perhaps. “Good evening, Citizen...”

At which point your suspect attempts to flee. “Stop in the name of the Law!”

Hmmm, no effect. You give chase. Suspect continues to resist being apprehended. Clearly he could be a dangerous villain. Trap him in a blind alley, and he knocks your car out of the way. What sort of desperate criminal am I dealing with here? “Stop, or I shoot!”

If the rozzers are going to be hauled up in court and convicted every time they engage in a car chase or draw a firearm, what possible incentive is there ever to do so? They’re better off sitting in the station, filling in forms and collecting traffic fines. Oh, wait...

Gulf News report 02 May 2006
Gulf News report 28 November 2006
Gulf news report 22 August 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

They shall be classed 'stout'

A fat tax on airline passengers?

Seems logical, doesn't it? The more weight the aircraft has to lift off the ground, the more fuel it uses. So now global warming can all be blamed on the obese. It's not people driving single-occupant SUVs with V8 engines, nor those leaving all the aircons on full welly because they're not paying the bill. It isn't even the Chinese, opening a new coal-fired power station per week every week for the next seven years.

What's going to happen at the airport? Are we all going to be weighed in like jockeys at the Grand National? Actually, why not? Lightweight travellers must surely receive discounts, and that suits me just fine.

Solidum illegitimatum es*, as one might say following a skinful of larks' tongues and otters' noses. But I try to travel with the minimum possible amount of luggage. In fact, I'll check in no bags at all if I can possibly manage, thereby eliminating the chance of the luggage being mishandled and left festering for a week on the tarmac at Heathrow instead of arriving in Washington.

I wonder how much fuel an airline could save by not actually hauling crates of duty-free booze, fags and perfume back and forth across the Atlantic? It must surely make sense to buy the stuff at your destination. Ah, but of course a bottle of Smirnoff that costs £20 in Sainsbury's in Portsmouth and £10 in Dubai duty-free will set you back around £16 at Thiefrow just before you hit the crowd apparently protesting about 'Mr Smith' of the 'Mövenpick'. But I digress.

What is the actual difference in the fuel consumption of an airliner that's running empty rather than full to the gunwales? I did a little uninformed research. It is of course subject to E&OE.

It's possible to buy aviation kerosene for your private Learjet in and around Washington DC at around $5 per US gallon. In China, the same fuel apparently costs a broadly similar Dh2500 per tonne. So we're looking at around Dh3.50 per kilogramme for paraffin for jet engines. I assume that Sir Richard Branson could get a bulk-order discount off these prices, and I suspect Emirates and Qatar Airways get their fuel for almost no money at all, at least when they gas up at home. (I can imagine the pilot of EK029 being told by ENOC that they don't take cards, and has he got cash?) According to Lufthansa's 2005 freight haulage figures, for the past few years they've been moving freight around the world at a fleet-wide average of around 185 grammes of paraffin per tonne kilometre. I make the approximate fuel cost to transport stuff by air around Dh5.80/kilo.

Mr Ray Sing-Snek arrives at Dubai airport for a business trip to London and back again. He's carrying a laptop and a change of clothes, and weighs in at a total of 95kg. The return trip costs Dh550 in fuel only, based on the above figures. Meanwhile, Osama bin Lardarse shows up to get on the same flight with a couple of suitcases bulging with pies. He and his pies weigh 160kg, and as such his personal fuel cost is Dh930. Only Dh370 more for 65 additional kilogrammes. Less than six dirhams per kilogramme. Compare this with the outrageous excess baggage charge that I found quoted on t'internet of £18.37 per kg on Emirates one way DXB to LHR. That's equivalent to Dh275/kg in my example. KLM is around EUR12/kg each way (Dh120/kg in my example). Excess baggage charges are of course set by IATA, but are punitive; they're designed to discourage extractors of the micturition.

Having demonstrated that the actual cost implication of demonising the stout is really rather small, how would an airline discriminate between a fat passenger and a tall one? The fat already suffer from narrow seats, and tall people get persecuted by the minuscule seat pitch in cattle class. Perhaps the BMI Gestapo will have to be summoned. The idea of not charging Big Bad John ('Six foot six and two forty-five'; BMI=28.3) whilst hitting up Warwick Davis (3'6" and 77lb; BMI=30.5) for a obesity surcharge is clearly obscene and ludicrous.

* "I am a fat b^stard".

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I'm not holding my breath

I read on the Beeb that Cambodia is having problems with the nouveau riche. More specifically, the offspring of those with money, whose idea of a good time is to endanger themselves and everyone else with their high-speed antics in their high-powered cars. Does this sound in any way familiar?

What caught my attention is that the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, has staked his job on solving the problem. One of the solutions that has been suggested is to make the parents directly responsible for their kids' behaviour. Instead of making the lawbreaking unhappen with a wave of the wasta wand, perhaps even if the yoof won't respect the law, maybe they'll respect their parents.

    "He has ordered the police to detain parents if they come to collect their errant sons from custody."
If Daddy got seven days in Al Slammah every time his back-to-front bebaseball-capped offspring committed a traffic offence then maybe, just maybe, pressure would be brought to bear on the offender. It is a paternal society, after all.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Spaghetti Festival

The letters page of 7DAYS has included some recent correspondence concerning the apparent inability of some drivers to use the correct lane. My own understanding of the rule is that everyone should drive in the most right-hand lane possible. Although officially there’s no ‘slow’ lane or ‘fast’ lane, it is widely understood that faster vehicles should occupy the left lanes and slower vehicles should remain further to the right. For the purposes of my blog, I’ll adopt the UK traffic police convention of calling the slowest, right-hand lane ‘Lane 1’, and number the ‘faster’ ones consecutively to the left. Lane 6 may be found in and around Dubai, although the Al Ain road typically tops out at Lane 2 or Lane 3.

Echo and the Sunnymen may typically be found in the middle, stereotypically burbling along at 70kph in the 120kph limit with traffic whizzing past on both sides. The alleged illegality of ‘undertaking’ on the right seems to be unenforced. Perhaps it’s safer to stay in Lane 1 at 120kph than to move out to Lane 3, make the overtake and then move back into Lane 1.

I think the most useful rule of thumb on the subject is that, if you are undertaken, you're in the wrong lane. Either go faster or move further to the right. I’m always exasperated if I wish to overtake a Sunnyman but can’t use Lane 3 because it’s full of Land Cruisers doing the speed of sound. Eventually the Sunnyman might move over into the empty Lane 1 and then he invariably moves back into Lane 2 once I've gone past and dropped into Lane 1.

Enough of what happens; how about why?

Education is one reason. If student drivers are taught to drive in the middle lane, then this is what they’ll do. And their behaviour is surely reinforced when they see everyone else doing the same. Moreover, there’s zero incentive to drive in an urban Lane 1 when this is seemingly designated the correct lane for random double parking.

But I believe a fundamental cause lies in the design of the highway itself. I refer to it as ‘frivolous use of lane gains and lane drops.’ I’m sure we’ve all been here: Driving along in Lane 1 only to discover that this lane scoops us off on to the service road. Overhead gantry signs are supposed to indicate lane drops, but these are often unreliable indicators. The lane markings should differentiate between the highway main line and the lane drop, but in Dubai it’s only the last 20m or so when the dashed line becomes a continuous marking that any warning becomes apparent.

On a normal diverge taper or, come to that, a side turning, the normal lane line ---------------- should become - - - - - -. What’s wrong with putting this on the last 500m before a lane drop? The purpose of signs and markings is surely to assist driver comprehension, not to obfuscate.

I have an excellent specific example of the lack of lane consistency within new works in Dubai. Try driving from Business Not-Much-Like-A-Bay towards Mirdif. The huge new dual carriageway provides a massive choice of six lanes and a posted 80kph speed limit. Over Business Bay Bridge there are seven lanes, yet Lanes 1, 2 and 3 peel off into Festival City. In order to get on the road to Mirdif you have to be in Lanes 4 to 7. Then Lanes 6 and 7 head off towards the airport tunnel, Lanes 4 and 5 forming the diverge that becomes Lanes 3 and 4 through the interchange between Nad Shamma Park and the Coca-Cola factory.

This next section varies between 4 and 5 lanes wide. The new Lane 1 disappears off towards Nad Al Hamar, there are miscellaneous substandard lane gains and drops within the interchange, including an appalling approach to a petrol station, but in order to get on to the road that becomes Tripoli Street, stay in Lanes 2, 3 or 4. And then, on the approach to the interchange with the Emirates Road, Lane 1 vanishes off towards Abu Dhabi, and Lane 2 tapers away to nothing.

Despite the enormous carriageway width, there are actually only two continuous lanes from Business Bay Bridge to beyond the Emirates Road. To quote from the AASHTO 2001 design manual, the USA rulebook for highway design and the standard upon which the Dubai design manual is based:-

“The basic number of lanes should be established through a substantial length of freeway and should not be changed through pairs of interchanges... In other words, there should be continuity in the basic number of lanes.” (AASHTO page 815)

“Route continuity refers to provision of a directional path along and throughout the length of a designated route. Route continuity [includes] the principle of maintaining a basic number of lanes.

“The principle of route continuity simplifies the driving task in that it reduces lane changes, simplifies signing, delineates the through route, and reduces the driver's search for directional signing.

“Desirably, the through driver, especially the unfamiliar driver, should be provided a continuous through route on which changing lanes is not necessary to continue on the through route.”
(AASHTO page 811).

My point is that in practice, anyone who attempts to drive in Lane 1 will inevitably have to switch lanes at the approach to every junction and interchange. For the sake of an easy life, many drivers simply stay to the left and avoid the problem, one that is in part caused by failure of designers to adhere to the rules governing good highway design practice.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Unlucky for some

Did anyone catch up with the story about the drunken yahoos in Brisbane? According to the newspapers, as a prank they took a pet goat out of a field, dragged this pet to a church that was under construction and then beheaded the animal in a mock satanic ritual.

I know I'm a bit biased, but if the goat had been my family pet, I would have been extremely upset. We learn that Tracey Lee Arnold has been put on probation and has to undergo psychiatric treatment. And for some bizarre reason gets banned from driving.

To add insult to injury the goat, it seems, is worth $64 to its owner. That's around Dh240. Damage to the church is apparently $1417, Dh5200. It's good to see that the judiciary has its priorities right. The prosecutor reckoned that the prank '...would have caused serious offence, particularly to the church community.' And to the pet's owner???

Question: if someone broke into your back yard one night and stole and killed your pet labrador, how would you feel about it? I would hazard a guess that you'd be demanding a lot more than an apology and Dh240.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Turning over a new 'leaf

Once upon a time, before the RTA, highways and traffic matters in Dubai were dealt with by the Municipality. DM ordained in around around 2000 that a new interchange should be built on Al Ittihad Road immediately adjacent to the border with Sharjah. Following a careful, comprehensive and detailed traffic study it was decided that a cloverleaf junction would be the most appropriate solution, so one was built at a cost of (and I'm guessing) around Dh50 million.

Upon the opening of Al Mamzar, Interchange 66, traffic making the Sharjah schlepp into Dubai was able to divert towards Hamriya and get into Dubai along the coast road. Almost immediately, DM blocked the right turn from Sharjah and the loop from Hamriya to Sharjah. "It is inappropriate that commuters should drive through residential areas," we were told at the time. Oh yeah? Then why build the interchange?

It transpires that the reason for the closure was that nasty, smelly pickup trucks were daring to use the new interchange to access the old fruit and vegetable market at Hamriya. DM's solution was obvious: move the market elsewhere. So, in 2004 the market was relocated and the interchange was reopened. And closed again within two months.

Since then, the loop from Hamriya towards Sharjah has been opened to traffic. This is nothing to do witheasing congestion and everything to do with lack of traffic enforcement. With the loop closed, traffic from Hamriya heading towards Sharjah had to cross over Al Ittihad Road, and many drivers simply made an illegal U-turn at the first traffic lights. Rather than enforce the U-turn ban, DM simply opened the loop. Nowadays, the banned movement at the cloverleaf is the right turn from Sharjah towards Hamriya. It's also impossible to go left, aroud the loop, from Sharjah because both exits are attached to the same, blocked, service road.

Why did DM's careful, comprehensive and detailed traffic study fail to anticipate the obvious? If you have two parallel roads, one of which is gridlocked with traffic, drivers will divert to the other, less-trafficked route. Could it perhaps be that the forecast traffic flows were arbitrarily massaged in accordance with anecdotal evidence from senior members of DM's traffic engineering team, rather than accepting the outputs derived from observed data? Was the traffic model totally ignored because someone senior fancied a cloverleaf? Had a brown envelope changed hands between DM and a contractor? Was there a change of government policy?

The de facto policy is to limit access from Sharjah into Dubai. Make the cheapskates queue for hours to get through Al Qiyadah junction.

Releasing the choke point would have two immediate consequences. First, more traffic would flood into Dubai and probably overwhelm the already overstressed highway network. Secondly, if it were easy to travel from Sharjah to Dubai, yet more commuters would move north to avoid Dubai's Rahmanian rents and potty parking charges. Not that Sharjah has any difficulty in filling every square inch of the emirate with high-occupancy, high-rent, high-rise towers.

Back to Al Mamzar interchange. I suspect that the real reason for the partial closure of the interchange is related to complaints from some V.V.V.I.P. in Mamzar who rather dislikes the plebeians driving past his front gate every morning.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.